Voting is the most powerful way to have a say in who represents our interests in the political arena but isn’t the only way for people with disabilities to get involved in politics. Another option is becoming a volunteer.
When we get involved in grassroots aspects of the political process, whether we’re working on a general “get-out-the-vote” effort or are investing in a candidate we support, we become more informed on current issues and develop a better understanding of how government works.
The benefits of volunteering are many, not only for the volunteer but, also the candidate. If politicians see the human side of disability by having a volunteer with a disability work in their campaign, they may be more receptive to issues that matter in our lives. It could also give them a better understanding that our voices need to be heard.
“Having been a volunteer for various political campaigns, I have been made to feel like a valued part of the team. There are so many aspects of living with a disability where we rely on the government for assistance, it’s best to be involved throughout the political process, rather than not,” said Kirk Root, political volunteer.
Volunteering offers, not only a chance to get involved in the community, but also an opportunity to sharpen ones advocacy skills. Advocacy is about information gathering to make the best decisions for our lives. Making a choice to become more involved in a political movement is no different. Learning as much as we can about each candidate so we find the candidate with a vision that is most similar to our beliefs is the first step. It is easier in any situation to be successful if we get behind a cause we believe in. The National Council on Independent Living(NCIL) has a Voting Rights Task Force whose sole mission is increasing the participation of people with disabilities in the electoral process to maximize our ability to affect federal, state, and local political priorities.
There are jobs for a person with any type of disability in a campaign. Working the phones via calls and text messaging is a great way to encourage others to vote and is something volunteers can do in the comfort of their own homes. Text banking has broadened the pool of potential voters in a community a candidate can reach. If we engage more of the disability population in the voting process by communicating relevant information in accessible formats, the more likely they are to exercise their right to vote.
One can get started volunteering in a candidate’s office by calling the campaign office to express interest in working on their campaign. The campaign workers can guide you in becoming part of the team. They might need help with envelope stuffing, canvassing a neighborhood, holding up signs at the polls, or other office duties that are part of getting a candidate elected. The National Council on Independent Living provides a guide for campaign staff in how to best utilize the abilities of volunteers with disabilities.
“People with disabilities volunteering in political campaign efforts could be profoundly important and extremely beneficial. Candidates appreciate the sweat equity, or work their volunteers put into their campaigns. There are many ways people with disabilities can help in someone’s campaign, eliminating the need to feel limited in any way if you’re thinking of helping in a campaign,” said Joe McCann, Florida Lobbyist
Of course there are ways to show your support for a candidate or cause without volunteering your time, such as requesting a yard sign or bumper sticker. If you live in a homeowner’s association and are interested in displaying a yard sign, you’d have to check for any rules they might have about displaying political advertisements. Getting on a candidate’s mailing list is also an easy way to be involved. It will keep you informed on issues that matter most to you as well as give you a chance to attend one of their rallies or other public appearances along the campaign trail. One of the quickest ways to contribute to a campaign is to use social media platforms to express support for a candidate/issue and follow them on their social media pages.
People with disabilities have many options available to feel empowered and exercise their right to impact who is elected to office. Becoming a campaign volunteer can be rewarding in many ways and help us sharpen our self-advocacy skills. The most important thing is to know that we can make a difference and then find out how to get started.